The state of the US Senate race in NC

by | Mar 7, 2019 | Editor's Blog

Yesterday, twitter announced that North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein will take a pass on the US Senate race against incumbent Thom Tillis. Other articles noted that Republicans frustrated with Tillis for opposing Trump’s emergency declaration are talking about a primary opponent. Both sides seem to be feeling anxious about what should be one of the most contested US Senate races in the country. 

First, let’s look at the Democrats. Washington Democrats have been searching for a candidate for a while. Their list included Charlotte Mayor Vy Lyles, Stein and Anthony Foxx, former Secretary of Transportation and Charlotte mayor. Lyles announce a few weeks ago she wasn’t interested. While Stein and Foxx would both be strong candidates, both have better things to do right now. 

Most insiders don’t see the announced candidates, state Sen. Erica Smith, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller or tax attorney Eva Lee, as having the experience or background the raise the money necessary for a US Senate race. Some folks are waiting on a couple of legislators, specifically Sen. Jeff Jackson and Rep. Graig Meyer, to make their announcements. Both men travelled the state in 2018 helping Democratic candidates and are extremely popular with activists. Both also have strong social media programs, but neither seems to have the fire in their belly for a 2020 race.

Stein’s done a great job as attorney general and has very good chance of getting re-elected. If he really wants to go the Senate, and there’s no indication that he does, waiting for 2022 is a better option. Richard Burr has said he won’t run again so the seat would be open. Stein would start the race as a front-runner with no obvious Republican opponent. If he lost, he would still be attorney general and poised to run for either re-election or governor. If he runs against Tillis, he gives up his position as AG and has a much tougher race against an incumbent. If he loses and still has political ambitions, he has to figure out how to keep himself relevant. 

Foxx isn’t likely to run, either. He’s helping Lyft go public. Foxx stands to make a ton of money in the deal. In running for Senate he would be walking away from the type of opportunity that could give his family security for the rest of his life. He’s still got children to put through college. I would be very surprised to see him run. 

After that, I think the DSCC would probably look toward Deborah Ross. She raised a lot of money and ran a strong campaign against Burr in 2016 but came up short. She’s been rumored to be watching what Congressman David Price is going to do. If Price decides not to run again, she would be the obvious front-runner for a seat that she could hold for life. However, with Democrats back in control of the House, Price’s seniority gives him power and influence that he might not be ready to give up after just one term in the majority.    

If Ross takes a pass, the committee might turn to former state Senator Eric Mansfield. Mansfield ran for lieutenant governor in 2012 but came up short in primary. However, he has an impressive resume. Mansfield is a doctor and successful small businessman who came to North Carolina with the US Army. He’s an ordained minister who is known for his powerful oration. Mansfield also showed that he could raise money. The primary in 2012 was short because then-incumbent governor Bev Perdue announced she was not seeking re-election in January, causing a domino-effect that left the lieutenant governor’s office open but a primary just two months after filing ended in February. 

On the Republican side, the rumors of a primary are probably just more frustration. Some folks have speculated that Congressman Mark Walker (NC-06) is considering challenging Tillis. Don’t bet on it. Walker has a relatively safe seat and Tillis has a big bank account. Unless Trump starts encouraging a race, I suspect Tillis will get by with little more than token opposition.   

Democrats need to field a strong candidate against Tillis. He should be one of the most vulnerable incumbents next year. For the same reasons, Republicans need to prevent a primary. Tillis may be a vulnerable incumbent, but a challenger would be at even greater risk of losing the seat for the GOP. And that’s how I see the Senate race right now. 


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